One of the things that struck me instantly when I moved to Sitka was the number of jarred foods I saw on people's shelves. I moved up from Oregon where canning foods was either considered "trendy" or outdated--it was a lost art. But here, it's an art that is practiced every year. In fact, according to the 2013 Sitka Food Assessment, 77% of Sitkans preserved or processed food in the last 12 months.
1 in every 3 Sitkans jar up food every year! And while that is an impressive number, it's one we want to increase. In the case of an emergency shelf-stable foods are incredibly important. Canning foods is a way to build our individual and community food resiliency.
And it's another way to connect to the Tongass. Knowing the seasons through food harvest forms a relationship to the natural world, a dependency even. It's sustenance and subsistence—it's a way of life. Many foragers even have secret spots for berries, wild greens, or mushrooms. There's a sense of ownership for these treasured places and they invite stewardship.
Every year hundreds of pounds of berries hang off their branches and freezer bags are filled with future muffins, smoothies, and pies in mind. And while these gems are absolutely delicious frozen, they are quite yummy canned into jams, jellies, syrups, and juice.
The Sitka Conservation Society offered a food preservation class this winter, turning frozen huckleberries into jam, jelly, and fruit leather. If you're interested in a canning class, call the Sitka Conservation Society at 747.7509 or email [email protected] If we get enough interest we'd be happy to organize another class for our members!
Photo Credit: Christine Davenport
The "why" of Fish to Schools has had clear goals from the beginning: connecting students to their local food system, learning traditions, and understanding the impact of their food choices on the body, economy, and environment. The "how" has been a creative process. Serving locally is one component of the program, but equally important is our education program that makes the connections between stream, ocean, forest, food, and community.
We were back in the classroom this year offering our "Stream to Plate" curriculum that focuses on the human connection to fish. How are fish caught? Where do they come from? Why should we care? Who depends on them and how? What do I do with them? These are just a few of the questions we answer through a series of hands-on games and activities.
Students began by learning about the salmon lifecycle and its interconnection to other plants and animals. By building a salmon web, students saw that a number of species depend on salmon—everything from orcas, to brown bears, to people, to the tall trees of the Tongass. They learned how to manage a sustainable fishery by creating rules and regulations, allowing each user group (subsistence, sport, and commercial) to meet their needs while ensuring enough fish remain to reproduce. They learned that fish is an important local food source (and has been for time immemorial) but also important for our economy, providing a number of local jobs. (Read more here.)
Students also learned how to handle fish--how to catch fish both traditionally and commercially, how to gut and fillet fish, how to make a super secret salmon brine for smoked salmon, and how to cook salmon with Chef Collete Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Each step is another connection made and another reason to care.
The Stream to Plate Curriculum will be available through our website in early 2014. Check back for its release!
Photo Credit: Adam Taylor
Can you teach economics to kids? I wasn't sure. I've been scratching my head at how to convey such an advanced topic to third graders. So what if money stays here or goes there? A dollar is a dollar to a kid and they are going to spend it on the next trendy thing, right? Probably, but Fish to Schools developed a lesson that teaches students that it does matter where money our goes.
We started with a game showing our connections to salmon. We have all seen salmon jumping in the ocean, swimming around the docks, fighting their way up Indian River, and returning to all the streams and rivers of the Tongass National Forest. We can't ignore their smell in the late summer air and for those who have been fishing, we can't get enough. It's fun to catch and delicious to eat.
After showing that we are all connected to salmon in some way, we dove deeper into the idea that our jobs are connected to salmon (in fact dependent on). To show this we handed every student a card with a picture of a profession: troller, seiner, seafood processor, grocery store clerk, boat repair man, gear store, teacher, doctor, etc. Students gathered in a circle and passed around a ball of yarn forming a web between the different professions. They identified who depended on them or who they depended on for their livelihood. Once every student and profession was connected to the web, students could visually see that each job affects the other. While it may have been obvious to many students that a seafood processor depends on a fisherman (and vice versa) it was much more abstract to show the connection between a teacher and salmon. This game provided a visual and taught students that our Sitka community is tied to salmon, that a healthy economy is dependent on healthy salmon.
After the lesson, a student in one of our classes couldn't figure out how her mom's job was connected to salmon. She went home to learn that her mom does daycare and takes care of fishermen's children when they are out on the water. A connection reinforced!
19% of adults aged 16+ are directly involved in the fisheries as a commercial fisherman or seafood processor. Many, many more professions are indirectly connected, their businesses dependent on seafood. (http://www.sitka.net/sitka/Seafood/Seafood.html)
Beneficially impacting our local economy and community is one benefit of eating locally-caught salmon. Through the Fish to Schools "Stream to Plate "curriculum unit, students learned many more reasons why local is better. Check back soon for blog posts on our other lessons.
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If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about hunting I probably would have said I didn't like it. I appreciated the whole wild food thing but hunting = killing. And that was bad. Or wrong. Or something. But today I was called a huntress...let me explain.
Saturday was the day of the hunt but we woke to heavy raindrops and mountains hidden behind thick clouds. We weren't going anywhere. So we snuggled deeper into our sleeping bags and let our heavy eyelids close. After a bit more sleep, we had pancakes smothered in peanut butter and homemade jam, a gooey blend of rhubarb and wild blueberries. We spent the next few hours playing cards and reading aloud from the "Princess Bride." Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.
The rain eventually let up enough for a little peak outside, so we pulled on our rain gear; my partner grabbed his rifle and I slung a pair of binoculars around my neck. I was the designated scout. We trudged through wet muskeg and noted fresh deer sign. We walked slowly scanning our surroundings, pausing occasionally at the edge of an opening or on a small rise for a better look. We saw plenty of sign but no deer--we would try again in the morning.
The four of us woke before sunrise and stumbled sleepily outside. We made a quick scan of the muskeg before climbing up a series of muddy deer trails, bushwhacking our way into the alpine. After a slippery few miles, the forest opened up into a rolling alpine. We fell silent. Silent because it was so beautiful and silent because we were hunting. I got flustered when we saw our first deer, how exciting it was! She was the first of many does we admired from afar (it's buck season).
Is this how people used to interact with the land? Quiet, attentive, searching… hungry? I was different out there or perhaps more fully aware of myself. I was in tune with my surroundings, each step thoughtfully placed. My eyes active. Instead of taking up space, I became a part of it.
We never did see a buck but it didn't take away from the trip. Hunting creates a space for deeper connection to place and that is enough. I kind of like being called a huntress because for me hunting is a process--an experience. It's exploration and adventure. It's intentional and fun.
Ask me now what I think about hunting and I'll tell you I like it. Ask me again when I get a deer.
Arguably, to know a place is to know the plants. It's one thing to appreciate the aesthetics of a certain habitat but another to really know the plants within it. To really know a plant creates a relationship. One that's based on an understanding and appreciation of seasons, habitat, and life cycle. It's a give and take—food and medicine (among others) for protection and stewardship.
The Sitka Conservation Society created an opportunity for community members to deepen their relationship to the land through a "spring edibles plant series." This class explored edible plants in three different habitats: the forest, estuary, and coastline. Students learned how to identify plants, where they are commonly found, harvesting techniques, and preparation methods. And now, we hope, they have a deeper appreciation and connection to the Tongass National Forest.
This course was a partnership with the Kayaani Commission, which was established in 1998 to "preserve and protect the historical and traditional knowledge of the way plants are used." Kayaani Commissioners shared a customary wisdom, complementing instructor Scott Brylinsky's extensive knowledge of edibles and plants.
Click here for an online field guide to the wild edibles in the Tongass. Enjoy the tastes of the Tongass!
Learn what is happening in the Food Movement locally, nationally, and globally. Check out the films, join the roundtable discussion, and tune into Rob Kinneen's keynote presentation on the use of local and traditional foods. Sink into your chair, munch on some popcorn, and get your taste buds in on the movie-theater experience! Films are free but donations are encouraged. Check out the line up below!
Learn what is happening in the Food Movement locally, nationally, and globally. Check out the films, join the roundtable discussion, and tune into Rob Kineen's keynote presentation on the use of local and traditional foods. Sink into your chair, munch on some popcorn, and get your taste buds in on the movie-theater experience! Films are free but donations are encouraged. Check out the line up below. Click on the title to learn more about the film.
Friday 8:30 pm: Feature Film @ Larkspur
Saturday 10:00 Ratatouille (Family Friendly Kid Movie) 12:30 Ingredients (111 min) 2:30 End of the Line (82 min) 3:45 Two Angry Moms (86 min) 5:30-6:30 Roundtable Discussion on Sitka's Food Resiliency 8:30 Feature Film @ Larkspur
Sunday 10:00 Feast at Midnight (Family Friendly Kid Movie) 12:30 Food Fight (91 min) 2:30 Bitter Seeds (88 min) 4:00 Food Stamped (63 min) 6:00 KEYNOTE speaker: Tlingit Chef Rob Kinnen "Store Outside Your Door" 7:00 Economics of Happiness(65 min)
--"Store Outside Your Door" Shorts will be shown in between a few films on both Saturday and Sunday. --All Movies screened in the Exhibit Room at Centennial Hall unless noted otherwise
Our Generous SPONSORS: SCS, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, SEARHC, Sitka Food Coop, Art Change, Film Society, Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co., and the Larkspur Cafe.
The morning light began to unfold as we motored south of town, a pod of whales to our right and the sun dancing in the still water. I am witness to the incredible orchestration of the ocean, the interconnection between everything. This is just the beginning...
At the hunting grounds, we anchor the skiff and pack up our gear. Now we hunt. I follow in my partner's foot-steps, every step deliberate. We walk slowly with vigilance, our eyes constantly scanning. Every movement is intentional, every sign of deer noted. We push forward and find a spot to hunker down and call in the deer, a sound that can be described as a guttural kazoo.
This is only my second time out on a hunt and I'm somewhat unaware of how this day will unravel. I try to stay present and note how ironic it is to be searching for edibles when so many are underfoot. Cranberries, crowberries, and labrador tea are in abundance but we pass them by, our eyes intent on another prey. Will our goal to find a deer override the pleasure of exploring the wilderness? Will we feel unsuccessful if we have nothing on our backs but the wind?
We keep walking, our steps intersecting existing deer trails. I am aware of my feet and the gentle forgiveness of the sphagnum moss. I look back and see the moss literally bounce back; the land feels uniquely alive. We stop again on the crest of a hill looking below while blowing the deer call. Nothing.
I begin to think I am cursed. The last time I went out we didn't even see a deer. Maybe I'm slowing my partner down or perhaps I am walking too loudly. But I remind myself that regardless of our intent, this is incredible. The sun plays with the clouds and mountain peaks surround me, I can't imagine a more perfect place.
We note the time and keep moving, knowing we must inevitably turn back soon before darkness sets. My eyes start to get lazy, my focus less centered but I try to remain attentive. We perch ourselves behind a large rock and try to call in a deer. We wait. We call again. And then out of my peripheral vision I notice movement to the left. A deer! I quickly signaled to my partner holding the rifle. And then…it was over.
We walked up to the buck and paid our respects. A life for a life, gunalchéesh. We quickly set to work, pulling out the organs. I was astounded by the warmth of this creature, its heart beating just minutes ago. I've heard of others leaving tobacco or tokens of respect for the life given, so without a tradition of my own, I pulled out a few of my hairs and sprinkled them atop the organs that would soon feed others.
On the return, my step was light (my partner did indeed pack out the deer); I was overcome with a feeling of success. I noticed how the walk back was starkly different then our journey in. The intention and awareness I brought with me began to fade. Our quiet whispers turned into conversation. It is so interesting how our interactions with place can change with context.
We were right on schedule when we returned to the skiff. Still plenty of day light to make the trip home. The air was surprisingly warm and calm for November, everything about today just felt so right. I was at home here.
When we returned to Sitka, my body was numb and tired. The spray from the skiff drenched me completely and the cold bit at every extremity. Exhaustion was setting but the day was just beginning. I watched my partner skillfully skin and quarter the deer, his hands knowing the right placement of his knife. In just a few minutes this beautiful animal transformed. How quickly this happened.
Once the deer was quartered we began to process the deer into cuts that would soon become dinner. I followed my knife along the bone and began to cut away the fat. I was fascinated by every muscle, how it connected to the bone and other muscles. We worked side by side for hours, ensuring every piece of meat was used.
This morning we finished the process by packaging up our roasts, rib meat, stock bones, and sausage. All evidence of our expedition lies in a small chest freezer, but it doesn't end there for me. The blood has washed off my hands, but I can still see it. It is through this experience that I find myself deeply connected to this place, to the interconnection of life. We are bound in this web and in the cycle of death and creation.
A heartfelt thank you to my partner who was a patient teacher.
Check out this great video prepared by our new JV Americorps, Courtney Bobsin, on the importance of Fish to Schools. We hope this inspires you to choose fish for lunch tomorrow, the first for the 2012-2013 school year!
"In Sitka we, as a community, have an outstanding opportunity to have a strong relationship with the food we eat. We touch fish with our hands and get to transform it into a meal to fuel our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. Fish to Schools is a project that has been created to provide a healthy and local option to the school lunch menu and allow kids to explore all dimensions of their food: where does it comes from, what does it look like, and why is it so important. Students are able to go look at fishing boats, dissect a salmon, and learn how to prepare the food they catch.
It's time to ask questions about where our food comes from. And it's time to care about the answer. Kids will learn that the banana they ate for breakfast traveled thousands of miles to reach their doorstep and the lunch they ate at school came from Alaskan fisherman. Let's cut the fish open. Let's explore and investigate what we are putting in our bodies. Let's treat our body well and see what comes of it.
Fish to schools encourages healthier foods by serving locally harvested fish every other Wednesday. We strive to teach kids about how the fish they are eating got from the stream to their plate and why we should care about the process because the origin of our food is too important to overlook. By fueling our body with good food, we are becoming healthier people who promote sustainable practices and protect our planet. So let's celebrate our food and where it comes from! Let's put that food into our body. And let's be healthier and live more sustainably. We can change the way we see food."
In partnership with Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
When I first moved here seeing devils club would make me cringe. I would lament at its pervasive cover. Inevitably when hiking, I would grab onto a stalk for support or bushwhack through a thicket of them. I noticed on a recent hike that my feelings for devils club had changed significantly. I was excited to see the plants, the larger the stand the bigger my grin. Now I see devils club as a medicine, a prolific and powerful resource in the Tongass. Its healing qualities seem to cure any ailment and have been used by Tlingits for thousands of years.
Last week, I met with one of our families to learn the process of harvesting the plant. Always harvest from a large stand and leave little impact. Be careful to harvest stalks above new buds so the plant can put energy into those shoots. Before clipping a branch, thank the plant for its medicine and healing properties.
Over the weekend, 4H Alaska way-of-life members located a stand of devils club, harvested a few stalks, scraped off thorns, and peeled off the green bark. I had already made the devils club oil by heating the dried bark gently in a double boiler for three hours (the longer you infuse it the stronger the medicine). Together, we added beeswax shavings to the warm oil to make a salve. Its applications are limitless: chapped lips, sore muscles, bug bites, buns, etc.
**It is of utmost importance to be mindful in your harvest, maintain respect for the plant and its natural environment, and harvest only what you can use.
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